Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature

With historic events seeming to burgeon with signs of the last days, the study of apocalyptic literature–that which is concerned with the end of history as we know it and the coming kingdom of God–has become increasingly relevant. C. Marvin Pate provides a guide to the distinctive content, form, and function of apocalyptic books for those who are interested in exegesis of biblical apocalyptic materials and related literature outside of the Bible.

Pate considers the background of Old Testament apocalyptic literature, such as Daniel, demonstrating its foundational role for properly understanding the New Testament discussions. He also elucidates the tie that binds all apocalyptic writing together–the coming restoration of Israel–before delving into his main emphasis on Revelation and other New Testament writings. Key principles of interpretation specific to this genre are provided for the reader, as well as steps to communicate the theological messages of biblical apocalyptic literature to a modern audience often anxious about the implications of the end times. Beyond a basic grounding in the field, Pate’s in-depth explanations also include new insights into the texts, such as viewing the Roman triumphal entry as the key background to the book of Revelation.

Designed for pastors, students, and informed laity, Interpreting Revelation and Other Apocalyptic Literature ensures that readers will gain a foundational understanding of the material, thereby sidestepping the pitfalls of interpreting this literature by the standards of other biblical genres or avoiding the genre altogether due to its complexity.

Fear and trembling is my usual default disposition whenever I see a book on the subject of apocalyptic or the Book of Revelation.  I suppose, to be honest, I’m ‘gun shy’ because of all the absolute rubbish I’ve read over the years on the topic.  Nine times out of ten, the volumes are trite, silly, and even substandard academically.  The majority tend to be just plain idiotic.

So I was a bit afraid when invited to review the present volume.  Fortunately, I have been pleasantly surprised.  This is a useful book indeed.

Pate here leads readers, quite carefully, through the relevant issues related to apocalyptic, beginning with the genre itself and the figures of speech commonly found therein.  Next he discusses the historical background of the apocalyptic texts.  Next, the function of apocalypticism in the story of Israel and then he gives a sort of primer for those interpreting apocalyptic texts.  He offers sensible guidance in terms of tools and translations and all those technical things which exegetes must make use of.  He rounds off the volume with a couple of examples of sermon prep on apocalyptic texts and finishes up with a list if selected sources.  Pate also provides a glossary.

Each chapter begins with a block of material titled ‘The Chapter at a Glance’ in which the materials of each section are summarized.  Chapters are then richly festooned with tables and illustrative charts.  And then at the conclusion of each there’s a ‘Chapter in Review’ block.

So much for the form of the work.  Now, the substance.  Does this book do what the publisher’s blurb, cited above, claims it will do?  Yes, indeed it does.  It does exactly what the publisher says it will do, and more.  This is a very fine introduction to a pathway to understanding the apocalyptic materials of the bible.  Make no mistake, it is a general introduction to the genre.  It opens the door to the topic and invites readers in.  It does not, however, fully discuss the historical background nor the interpretative/ exegetical implications of the material and to be fair, it is not trying to.  For that, one needs access to further more detailed monographs.

Here one is introduced to the genre and shown the basic outlines of its study.  That is all, and it is enough for the intended audience.  Indeed, it may be a bit too much for some.

The publisher suggests above that the book is aimed at Pastors, students, and informed laity.  But unless those people can make use of Greek, they will find bits of the book completely beyond their grasp.  Not only is Greek used, it is not transliterated.  Indeed, pages 130ff, 190ff, and others will be completely useless to anyone who doesn’t read Greek.

The interested laity for whom the book is intended had better brush up on their Greek, or just skip over all those places where it is used.  And knowing the linguistic skills of many Pastors and students, they will be skipping over a good bit themselves.

Indeed, to be fair to the author and to the intended audience, it might be suggested that potential readers have at least a year or two of Greek under their belts, along with a College or University course on biblical hermeneutics too, or the book will simply be too overwhelming.

This is a very useful book.  For the proper audience.  That is, for University students who are biblical studies majors or Seminary students who have taken several introductory courses.  Those with less background in the field will not profit as much from it as they could had they the requisite skills to do so.